albums - March 2015
No, that isn't Nick Drake, it's Ralegh Long considering whether he should book that appointment with his barber. The cover photo is, I think I can say fairly, just slightly misleading as to whose album 'Hoverance' is and what it sounds like. Ralegh Long isn't a guitar wielding troubadour regaling us with softly voiced romanticisms, indeed his vocal has a noticeable mid atlantic tone and perhaps Ben Folds is a more accurate reference point for his inspirations. First impressions aside, Londoner Long has some spectacularly talented musicians helping bring 'Hoverance' to life, and first track 'Gulls Hovering' seems to last beyond its one minute and fortyseven seconds, good sign.
Moving on to second track 'Islands' and there's a really good slide
guitarist providing a bluesy backdrop to the song, that's Jack Hayter,
formerly of Hefner and another guitar is provided by Tom Dougall of
the NME favourited band Toy, although Hoverance' isn't about angular
neuroses or post-rock ambiences, it's a mellow and mid paced modern
MOR album, easy listening for aging millenials and really, really
well put together for all that. Perhaps there are hints of Nick Drake
in his 'Hazy Jane' phase in 'Light Of The Sun' and a glimmer of the
vibe of 'Northern Skies' in the acoustic phrasing of 'The Lizard',
a reminder of the sullen genius of Hefner on 'All The Leaves Are Gone',
and some persuasively agile piano from Long himself particularly in
the latter part of the album, but while it isn't difficult to find
the assorted inspirations that 'Hoverance' contains it's just too
well made a record to find an awful lot of fault with. Ralegh Long
and cohorts may have set out to deliberately make an album that obviously
referenced some very well regarded influences but they've made an
album that is entirely their own.
Making quality and credible synthpop has given
numerous musicians something to think about in recent times. One band
that has gone some way to taking the whole synth thing several steps
forward are Virginia Wing and Hannah Cohen seems to have taken a cue
from their deceptively brittle and insectoid sequential reveries,
plus these are actual songs with beginnings, middles and ends. The
synths are put on the back burner for softly paced ballad 'Watching
You Fall' and 'Fake It' might actually have been written for Taylor
Swift although Hannah Cohen's vocals are sultrier and less energetic
than those of everyone's favourite cheerleader, and she isn't exactly
aiming for global megastardom just yet. 'Just Take The Rest' is the
probable album highlight, a swaying, shifting rhythm that is heading
for Best Coast territory, and other tracks such as 'Claremont' and
'Just Take The Rest' might even recall some of Kirstin Hersh's more
recent solo work. 'Pleasure Boy' isn't the full on attempt at Lady
Gaga's crown it could appear as, and it's a more measured and laid
back performance that eventually has Hannah Cohen drifting eloquently
in the manner of Mazzy Star, on the last and longest track 'Baby'.
Formerly a model and from San Francisco, Hannah Cohen knows exactly
how she wants to make herself heard and, moving from clubby electronica
to ambient soundscaping over the course of 'Pleasure Boy' she has
made a record that fully reflects her talents and is somewhere a subtle
commentary on the world she has emerged from.
A classically trained pianist making songs that derive influence from jazz, modern composition, heavy metal and inevitably drawing comparisons with the giants of esoteric female singer songwriting, Kate Bush, Bjork and Sioux, Maud the Moth's giddy persona might see some listeners filing her away alongside those more well known names but Amaya Lopez is a large scale talent in her own right and 'The Inner Wasteland' is a more than sufficiently accomplished work to avoid those obvious comparisons being anything more than pointers towards where her songs originate. Maud is very much her own woman and 'The Inner Wasteland' doesn't really sound like the music of anyone apart from her.
Firstly, Maud is a greatly talented pianist, and her voice has a
quality entirely its own and that avoids over dramatizing the lyrics,
there being more than enough of that in the tunes and arrangements
and this isn't a criticism as Maud could easily perform Chopin études
and Bach concertos with equal assurance and ability. The album sounds
fulsome, the production provides an autumnal haze over the spikier
edges of the music and Maud sings entirely in English, multi tracking
her voice with startling effect on one or two of the tracks, notably
'Ignis Fatuus' and 'Boards And Gasoline' while her piano is assisted
with a combination of electronics and strings. Sounding more like
a jazz diva than a psychedelic goddess and pacing her songs with a
defined grandeur, 'The Inner Wasteland' is a bit of an incongruous
title for an album that draws much of its inspiration from the natural
world although putting themes and images to one side, the album is
really about Maud and her piano, and that is never less than sublimely
inspired. Her backing band are just as up for it as Maud is and despite
its gloomy sounding title 'The Inner Wasteland' is a richly hued tapestry
of songs and near virtuoso levels of musicianship.
I remember being at University and hearing about this band. That night my friend Claire asked me if I'd take some washing to the gig for her friend who was their tour manager. That is how I got to see Funeral For A Friend for the first time. They were fantastic. I had a great time.
It was pleasing to watch them get pretty big too and to have them around still is pretty cool. It was even good to see them try and get huge and try and do different things, including an album about being afraid of or in awe of the ocean.
I find them hard to write about now though. I see something admirable in their tenacity and I'm still inordinately fond of them, but I remember that their guitar player has an astonishing knack for coming up with stunning lines and I wish there were more of them. The straight-up hard-core yelling that has replaced the smooth-scream dynamic sounds equally as scene.
Funeral For A Friend once had something few bands, scene or otherwise, had. They had a spark that combined all the cool and all the skill and they seemed like a gang of friends, like all the best bands should. Time, numerous line-up departures and, I'd guess, the hard work that goes into being a hard-touring band has made them seem jaded.
There are too few clever bands around (even when there're loads) and FFAF are certainly still capable of being clever. My expectations are high because of my fondness and I'd love them to keep going and find something of what was amongst what they want to be. We'll see. Right now they could be any number of rising stars but equally many bands you'll find almost indistinguishable from each other.
I kept listening for sure. It made me sad every time. Every time I saw hands reaching for places they could once grab and watched faces ever determined and resolute in not stopping. I'll always back that. I'll always choose taking risks and going after what you want, even if it's not necessarily the right thing. I think FFAF are pursuing a dream of staying in FFAF, I hope they get far more than that, and to get there I hope they remember a bit more about how they got here.
Don't give up, you're told. Listen, but don't expect things to be easy. People give up because things are awful. Getting to do what you love is better than most things though.
A story of inevitable trajectories? Not necessarily.
As a duo, Clare Carter and Joseph Osborne made some interesting music, electronica with a folkspun touch that gained them a reputation as something like the post-modern Yazoo. Now increased in number to a five piece, The Horn The Hunt are something of a different proposition, the guitars and live drums adding new depths to their coastal explorations and to Clare Carters melodically expressive voice and 'Wovo' is a tour de force of songwriting with some inspired and evocative instrumentation. Starting with the single from the album 'Crazy Rain' is classic synthpop with slide guitars and soaring vocals, and it provides a fulsome introduction to where The Horn The Hunt are taking us on their latest excursions. Their sound is a now more expansive one, and the epic soundscaping has a rockier feel than their work as a duo, and a committed and convincing performance it is.
The sound of 'Wovo' may be a glossier and less experimental one than
that of their previous work, and you might hear the influence of T'Pau
as readily as that of the Cocteau Twins, but don't expect an 80s redolent
nostalgia fest, THTH are presenting us with an album of many and varied
strands, from the keening balladry of 'Seashell', to the angular synth
powered velocities of 'Life Is Movement', the hazy mysticism of 'Snake
Charmer', the cinematic imagery of 'Solar Flare Off My Heart', and
it all holds together with a combination of swirling musicality and
a succession of smartly realised melodies. If THTH were previously
a noteworthy electronica duo, they are now a many faceted and successfully
reinvented band, and listening to 'Wovo' just makes me want to listen
to it again.
It’s weird the way the music industry works. You get signed bands who end up being obligated to churn out record after record using star producers without time to really develop, they get signed up to perform at festivals then the whole cycle starts again for another year. That’s not a particularly creative process. At the other end of the spectrum, you get the plucky amateurs, all energy and enthusiasm but let’s face it – it’s pretty difficult to put together a professional sounding record on a non-professional budget. But somehow, somewhere between these two extremes, Five Mile Island seem to have played a blinder and recorded an album which combines all the best elements of amateur and professional music.
Loosely based around Leeds, the band comprise just a three piece yet consistently display a sound which far exceeds their minimal cohort. Whether it’s the skillfull layering of guitars and trumpet on my personal favourite ‘Pulling Teeth’ creating a full and complex sound akin to dEUS or the more simplistic pieces like the New Order infused ‘Aurora’, this album sounds every bit like it has had thousands of pounds and hours of love lavished on it. I suspect only one of those is true.
I’ve heard criticisms of Owen’s vocals from some corners but personally think that’s a bit off the mark. Sure he has a distinctive whispy quality, not given to lung busting screams. But it does have a quality all of its own, perfectly lended to fleshing out these musical soundscapes with a vulnerable quality. Now Robert Smith, there’s a vocalist you could really lay into...
Close on the tail of ‘Pulling Teeth’ in terms of radio friendly listening is ‘Signals’, a crisp, key-led track again with a lovely meandering brass part. Then towards the end of ‘Propellor’, the band really let rip with what I believe is commonly known as a bit of an ‘epic’ in the form of the 7 minute plus ‘The Golden Age’. It builds and swells and features probably the most evocative guitar work on the album.
So don’t cast aside those flyers for gigs in the back of your local
pub or quickly skip over that unknown track on your Spotify account.
You never quite know when you might stumble across something wonderful
A bit late in the day, everyone has already agreed this album is amazing, but why not join the clamour? Every time I review Hawk Eyes I seem to end up using expressions like ‘a band at the height of their powers’ or ‘the peak of their achievements’ then the buggers go and prove me wrong by topping it with the next release. Here we go again.
So it’s been a while now and my good lady has already had to put up with me randomly springing around the house shouting things like ‘It’s a trap!’ and ‘I don’t think that God is gonna change his mind!’. Not some random tourets-related syndrome but mere snapshots from this album which have wormed their way into my head and keep forcing their way out.
Then there are the inexplicable, involuntary mini-headbangs experienced whenever the tracks with ridiculously powerful guitar lines like ‘Die Trying’ and ‘More than a Million’ storm out of the speakers. Not a full blown head-bang – I could understand that. This is more a case of my mind being so blown away by how good this sounds that it can’t allow my body to stay still – it’s obliged to cause a gentle involuntary spasm.
Every so often I find myself smiling knowingly, recognising some little snippet from other local bands I’ve known and loved. Does that stop-start riff sound a bit like Future ex Wife in ‘Permission’? Hmm, a little bit. Could the rambling vocals of ‘Terribly Quelled’ come from a TEAM album? Perhaps.
And finally that feel of euphoric exhaustion as the 7 minute long finale of the epic sounding ‘TFF’ signals I’m about to finally be released from my wonderful afflictions.
And breathe. No need to make any bold statements about this one.
Just give it a spin.
There's something about when a band invent a genre entirely for themselves, or deliberately create a new one, that says a lot about that band and 'neogothic altpop' - I couldn't find out whose description that was so I'm going to assume it was concocted over a late night post rehersal discussion - 'neogothic altpop' is as accurate a description of The Vultures as I or any other reviewer could concoct (I like that word). Their videos are inventive and utilise puppetry and all sorts of what are today underused gimmicks to put it across to us that The Vultures are a band of uncommon abilities, difficult to quantify and with the sort of theatrical creative know how that belongs in a world without computer animation. The sound the Vultures are bringing to us, with its emphasis on their string section, has an authentically rustic tone and I'd expect their stage show has them appearing like the 18th century rapscallions they sound like, with tricorn hats and enormous frocks to bring their melodramatic songs to life, an occasionally gruesome and nerve jangling life that it is.
I need to mention that I've had some issues with similarly fractious
steampunk bands in the past, the kind of things where, even when the
music is a resolutely uptempo jigging the lyrics go off on all manner
of blood and thunder themes, with the unlucky protagonists getting
drowned, hanged, trampled under a haycart or just drinking themselves
to death and first track 'Vlad', with its refrain of 'let us kill
horses and build houses with their bones' places The Vultures very
near the Penny Dreadful school of Poguery and as 'Three Mothers' sways
onwards, the lyrics do seem a bit grim with all sorts of atrocities
happening outside the studio while the violinists tune up and another
crate of porter goes down but for all the archly turned phrasing I
like 'Three Mothers' for its self conscious effrontery and their firm
grasp of their songs and arrangements. Theirs is a practised and intruigingly
paced folkpunk sound, The Vultures.
'Dreamless' is the second album from US duo Dane Di Perro and Meghan Redding, and while I was preparing to review their latest release the links on their Bandcamp site led me to this slightly earlier work from them and it interested me enough to want to review it. Their stated aim is to 'synthesize something original from the noise in our hearts and minds' and they are also slightly, (although not very) less than publicity hungry, with what info I could find on their Bandcamp page practically all that there is to know about them as far as the social media thing goes. Fair enough, no one really needs to know what either Dane or Meghan had for breakfast, their ages and birthdays, or even what they look like and listening to 'Dreamless' I decided that I got the idea as Radiolab are carrying a flag of sonic radicalism last heard in the mid 90s. First track 'Conspiracies' has very much the sound of the harder edge of indie dance, with its groovy psyche rhythms and the sound collaged vocal samples that, while Radiolab must be aware that they're setting themselves up for accusations of wholesale remixing of the works of such late 80s luminaries as Renegade Soundwave, On-U Sound and The Shamen, they are also asking an interesting question, something like 'the bands we listened to when writing Dreamless must have sounded a bit full-on in their day, so has this combination of indie pop, electronica and those vocal samples retained its edge in the way other music styles have'? It needs answering.
As it progresses, I decided that Radiolab are very definitely on to something with their retake on a music that isn't heard much nowadays, what the indie scene sounded like in those now mostly forgotten days before Britpop, and for a modern US band they've certainly done their homework, doubtlessly spending hours watching fuzzy Chart Show clips on Youtube to exactly capture that early 90s vibe which they've done with considerable accuracy across the first four tracks of 'Dreamless', the sound of a world before computers and mobile phones, but there's more to Radiolab than that and fifth track 'Spider Kiss' is a spirited sounding ballad with a touch of Mazzy Star in its guitar and sung vocal interplay. Then we're back to Madchester inflected bagginess and prerecorded guruspeak about consciousness and mysticism, which is very early 90s in its themes. 'America is dying from within' says the anonymous commentator of 7th track 'All Things' and he goes on to talk about pollution and evolution while Radiolab perform a drowsy triphop backing to his words of environmental catastrophe, sounding only a little incongruous with their 'it's time' refrain. Lastly, 'Existential' takes a Cocteau Twins type guitar riff and the addition of a vocal sample speaking of 'unseen powers' and 'orderliness in the universe' over a crunching drum track while Meghan Redding adds a sultry vocal of her own, singing about 'moving into the light' and it's very quotable and for anyone that missed the headier and more experimental side of the early 90s first time round, Radiolab recapture the vibes with skill and enthusiasm.
I started off reviewing Radiolab's most recent album 'Dreamless'
but what with one thing and another about their Bandcamp site I ended
up listening to another of their albums instead, making some sort
of connection between their random sampling and the randomness of
the track links, and wondering why it's the first album I can remember
hearing since Bentley Rhythm Ace long enough ago that takes the nowadays
almost lost skill of sampling and actually makes it work. Radiolab
are doubtlessly busying themselves in their studio even as I type
this, reconstructing yet more of the ideas and sounds of the ancient
indie world and putting their own spin on those with a flair that's
entirely their own.
A singer songwriter whose songs are electronic based rather than acoustic or folksy, Emma Louise has gathered a significant reputation in her Australian homeland as a less quirky Lorde, a more soulful Bat For Lashes, a more committed sounding Lykke Li. 'Vs Head' is her debut album, and it showcases the talent of a vocalist finding a musical identity amongst the sequencers and drum machines. It's a finely balanced performance, and Emma Louise keeps her voice audible above the assorted electronics and she does have a very listenable singing voice, to a point where a comparison such as 'Sheryl Crowe using Bjork's studio' doesn't seem like an exaggeration.
This may be only her first album but Emma Louise already has a lot
of music biz plaudits to her credit, along with SXSW appearances and
a perfume advert so you get the idea, this is glossy Bizpop with a
hippy kid credibility attached. Citing Tracey Thorn, Steve Reich and
Detroit house as influences, plus you were also probably unaware that
a single featuring her vocal has sold 250,000 copies in the UK laone.
Or maybe you already know and are enamoured of Emma Louise and her
neatly turned out lounge bar electronica, which while it may not win
awards for colossal levels of originality or groundbreaking use of
analogue bass synth, is very far from the bland Pop Idol muzak it
might get mistaken for. Give Emma Louise a listen, her stories are
A thirteen track release from the Brighton based singer songwriter and, if you haven't yet heard of Conrad Vingoe - and this is his fourth album, then I recommend that you find a copy of 'Tomorrow, then' and wonder why his is a talent going mostly unrecognised outwith the festival circuit as it is really quite superb. With an accomplished backing band and some righteously fine songs for us, just about every track on 'Tomorrow, then' is a minor classic of songwriterly craft and foot tapping alt.folk liveliness. The combination of Vingoe's soulful vocal, the very skilful rhythm section of Jon Parker and Martyn Baker and the understated yet sharply focused production of Phil Brown (whose other credits include Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin) make for a heady brew of acoustic revelry, although the pace of the album is resoundingly mid tempo and the less-is-more production keeps 'Tomorrow, then' on the right side of mellow.
Conrad Vingoe is far from a one note songwriter, and switches between
styles throughout the album, ranging through ballads, swing jazz,
traditional folk and even a tinge of Britpop throughout the album
and it's testament to the talents involved that the pace never slackens
and that Conrad Vingoe treads the tightrope of alt.folk grittiness
and sophisticated loungecore jazz with an easier than it sounds practise.
The best acoustic album I've heard for a while, 'Tomorrow, then',
there are doubtlessly one or two more folk world awards on their way
to the Vingoe household.
Opener “Phantom” begins with a minimal bass introduction. The vocal slightly reminds me of 90’s hardcore claimers The VSS, and then comes an eruption of progressive post-rock guitar and off beat drums almost akin to Explosions In The Sky.. the bass fattening up throughout and the song swaying back an forth with yet more bursts of rain from the guitar which is definitely the pinnacle of this tune. I know right from the start of “Foot” that I’m going to enjoy it.. enter hectic stabs of guitar, bass and drums with what begins subtle singing and then manic Nirvana ‘Hairspray Queen’ style vocals. This is what Jack White would’ve sounded like if he had more balls, a killer of a track! There’s an element of early Nick Cave about “Fly” which is almost industrial and as dark as a neglected loft. I feel almost uneasy when listening to it, like a sense of paranoia! “Torturer” is a more uplifting dish, served with jolting bass lines and high pitched ‘Sister’ era Sonic Youth style guitar. This is my fav so far, great arrangements and very captivating. Next up “Tiger” which shows the melodic side of this group, vocals almost sound like J Mascis here. There’s an almost improv feel to this one, like a jam that’s come together spontaneously which builds and builds! “Mom” begins with a repetitive snare tap and slight guitar experimentation at the top of the fretboard, this flows perfectly out of the last track with lyrics aimed at family matters and every so often a spell of marching drums. “Squirrels” is an atmospheric number with a dab of spiraling guitars crawling in every so often. Love the bass change on this track, almost off key at times.. the guitar follows perfectly before again bursting in to a rain of melancholy. Just when you think it’s finished, in it comes again, amazing! “Brain Problem” bases itself around 6 different key changes before delving in to a muse of flat out post rock beauty! The drums are immense here, hats off to the sticks man.. the musicianship was definitely forefront on this track. The closing of the album rolls in with “It Ends”, didn’t expect a slow one but it works. almost a ballad, though the lyrics are just stating to the title instead of a romantic journey thankfully! Finishing with a fade out, I’m totally blown away by this album.. what a sound. 9/10